RE-FRAMING BREAST CANCER RISK
We have been made to fear our breasts. We hear the statistic every day that 1 in 8 women will die of breast cancer and we all know someone, or “know someone who knows someone” with the disease, especially if you count DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ), which is actually a pre-cancerous condition that is often treated like cancer. Most of us were also taught to go searching for lumps in our breasts once a month, by well-meaning care providers.
Each year, we participate in Breast Cancer Awareness Month and are exhorted to run races, buy pink ribbon-adorned products and “donate to the cure”. All of this serves to increase the attention we put on thinking about cancer. For most women I talk with and see in my practice, the feeling is not “if” one will develop breast cancer, but “when”. There is a sense of inevitability about it. And most of us will put off breast screening because of this sense of foreboding…maybe this will be the time the bad news will come.
This heightened sense of fear and inevitability serves well the purpose of fundraising and money-making in our profit driven health care system. Mammogram is a 10 billion dollar a year industry, and for all the millions of dollars we raise, we still don’t have a cure for breast cancer. The funds that are raised go almost exclusively to the development of new drugs, and drugs are never going to “cure” cancer. Prevention is the Cure.
So, I would like to take a minute and re-frame breast cancer risk for you. These are exactly the same statistics you will see on any website you go to, whether it be the CDC, the American Cancer Society or the multitude of Breast Cancer organizations out there. They were updated in 2015. But it is a funny thing about numbers. You can look at them through many lenses, depending on the point you want to make.
Let’s take our statistic of 1 in 8 women will die of breast cancer and turn it around to see what that means about remaining healthy. Here is how it breaks down by age:
AGE RANGE RISK PERCENTAGE % REMAINING HEALTHY
20-30 1 in 1,760 too small to quote almost 100%
30-40 1 in 229 .44% 99.6% remain healthy
40-50 1 in 69 1.45% 98.5% remain healthy
50-60 1 in 43 2.31% 97.7% remain healthy
60-70 1 in 29 3.49% 96.5% remain healthy
70 – 80 1 in 27 3.84% 96.1% remain healthy
80 and up 1 in 8 12% 88% remain healthy
So even the 1 in 8 statistic looks very different when you think of it as 88% healthy, yes? The odds of remaining healthy are exponentially greater than becoming sick, and these are just average risks. There are many simple things we can do to reduce even this risk in our lives. It is time we began focusing on creating health and not just treating disease.
Let’s take a deep breath, befriend our bodies and our breasts and re-frame what we are being told by corporate interests. Our bodies are made to be healthy, and if we just give them a little help, they generally will be. Stay tuned for future blogs on simple things you can do to reduce risk, getting to know your body, and the ways that we can create health, rather than just fight disease.
To Your Health